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Interpol

+ {Paul Banks} + {Banks & Steelz}

One of the new breed of millennial post-punk indie acts to emerge from the States, New York City’s INTERPOL found global success with the delivery of their intense and insular debut album in 2002. Although they tried without much critical success to match this glorious set on further outings, brooding frontman Paul Banks and Co still hold up the torch head and shoulders above their rivals.
Formed in 1998 by local NYC university students Daniel Kessler (guitar), Carlos Dengler (bass), and an old acquaintance Paul Banks (vocals/guitar), INTERPOL were positioning themselves well within the collegiate community when they performed their inaugural gigs with drummer Greg Drudy. After circulating a round of 8-track demos in 2000, Drudy vacated his place in the band; superseded almost immediately by fellow Philadelphian, Samuel Forgarino. A self-financed EP, led by the track `PDA’ (for the Scottish imprint Chemikal Underground, as part of the “fukd i.d.” series) was issued in 2001; the group could also be found on several compilations, not least the British indie label Fierce Panda’s “Clooney Tunes”.
Lumped in with New York’s finest, The STROKES, The NATIONAL and STELLASTARR from their time spent playing at the Luna Lounge in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, INTERPOL were garnering interest in the music press both in their stateside homeland and in the UK. They toured Britain the following April, and took the well-trodden trek of alt-rock acts by appearing on the legendary John Peel late-night programme on Radio One. Comparisons were being bandied about by the music hacks, not least of which was their likeness to celebrated Mancunian icons JOY DIVISION and less celebrated post-new wavers The CHAMELEONS. The darker tones of the band’s material echoed back to Mark Burgess’ melancholy output, but it would have been wrong to have taken this parallel too far, as INTERPOL also ran in the tradition of many of the great American East Coast alternative acts.
The New Yorkers were brought to the attention of Chris Lombardi’s Matador Records, who scooped them up in 2002, and released a triple-track single (led again by `PDA’) that summer. Hot on its heels came the delivery of their debut album, TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (2002) {*9}, a record soon to be widely hailed as one of the most enduring works to come out of the neo-new wave era. One of its most vocal supporters was the NME, who had INTERPOL perform in their annual awards show at the beginning of 2003, while the band strengthened their chart status with a re-issue of the hypnotic `Obstacle 1’ single. From the opening `Untitled’ piece, to the closing `Leif Erikson’, SMITHS fans might recognise the beat and pulse of `Say Hello To The Angels’ (a minor hit), while longer dramatic tracks came via `Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down’ and `The New’.
If that difficult second album was guaranteed to be more difficult than most for INTERPOL, ANTICS (2004) {*8} fulfilled expectations by never really straying from their glowering blueprint. It also more than fulfilled commercial expectations by reaching the Top 30 in both Britain and America; hit singles such as `Slow Hands’, `Evil’ and `C’mere’, all contributed to the INTERPOL myth, even if singer Banks seemed to be in communion with the spectre of pre-Warners period Michael Stipe. `Next Exit’, `Narc’ and the 7-minute `A Time To Be Small’ were equally weary and wicked (in a good way). Miserabilist music was now back in vogue.
Switching to Capitol Records, the transatlantic Top 5 set, OUR LOVE TO ADMIRE (2007) {*7}, polished up the rough edges of their atmospheric rhythms. Although not issued in the homeland, singles `The Heinrich Maneuver’ and `Mammoth’ both secured Brit hits, while one could almost touch a glacial peak on the ice cold and calculating, `Rest My Chemistry’ and `Pace Is The Trick’. It was also the year when Fogarino teamed up with Adam Franklin (ex-SWERVEDRIVER) in the duo, The Setting Suns, although they changed their moniker to Magnetic Morning for the release of iTunes EP, “The Setting Suns”.
Matador US (V2 in Britain) were back on board for the band’s fourth set, INTERPOL (2010) {*6}, a somewhat sonic and spiritual set of aural assaults that was down to producer Alan Moulder, who stripped away the gloss and sheen apparent on their previous outing. With no immediate hits to depend on, the record still hit Top 10 on both sides of the big pond, and if one was searching for pegs to hold up one’s coat-tails, then `Lights’, `Success’ and `Barricade’ served a purpose.
By the time of the album’s release, Carlos D was gone, sick of playing bass when the guitar was his instrument of choice; subsequent live dates featured bassist David Pajo (ex-SLINT) and keyboardist Brandon Curtis (of SECRET MACHINES). PAUL BANKS, meanwhile, took the opportunity of delivering his own solo material, having already tried and tested his alter-ego courtesy of the JULIAN PLENTY IS SKYSCRAPER (2009) {*6}, complete with his Logic Pro software programmer. Augmented by Fogarino and producer Peter Katis, it strayed a tad from the Interpol route, itching towards pastoral-folk for `On The Esplanade’ and the stop-start angular rock for `Games For Days’.
Abandoning the unrewarding Julian Plenti pseudonym after part-covers EP, `Julian Plenty Lives…’ (featuring Harold Faltermeyer’s `Perimeter Deactivated’, Frank Sinatra’s `I’m A Fool To Want You’ and J Dilla’s `Mythsysizer’), the frontman completed his second batch of songs: BANKS (2012) {*7}. Augmented by the odd drummer or two and a small string section, Paul explored different highways and musical avenues, although the album did suffer from a who’s-Paul Banks?-syndrome. As dark and sombre as any Interpol recording, `Arise, Awake’, `Over My Shoulder’ and `Summertime Is Coming’, pushed the melancholy button on repeat play. Meanwhile, Fogarino was the geezer behind EMPTYMANSIONS, who, with JESUS LIZARD’s Duane Denison, released `snakes/vulture/sulfate’ (2013).
Reports that INTERPOL were threatening to return after a few years hiatus were ringing certain truths. Album number five, EL PINTOR (2014) {*7} – an anagram of Interpol – saw the introduction of the aforementioned keyboardist Brandon Curtis; Banks shifted to bass. All the hallmarks and traits of the group were intact for the transatlantic Top 10 set; from the opening semi-classic `All The Rage Back Home’, to others of similar insular and sombre patterns. `Ancient Ways’, `Tidal Wave’ and the crystalized, crescendo/climactic closer `Twice As Hard’, renewed an urgency for a lavish, and, at times, lush set of spirited songs.
The punningly collaborative BANKS & STEELZ was noneother than Paul and one of WU-TANG CLAN’s pseudonymous commander-in-chiefs RZA (alias Robert Diggs). Enhanced somewhat by across-the-board guest singers, the explicit ANYTHING BUT WORDS (2016) {*7} was the pair’s connection into “rap-rock”, a genre missing in action since the mid-90s – at least in terms of success. Dropping by to say hello and provide further words of sustenance, RZA buddies KOOL KEITH, GHOSTFACE KILLAH and the combination of Masta Killa & METHOD MAN were behind respective entries `Sword In The Stone’, `Love And War’ (the initial single) and `Point Of View’. Sadly, sales figures were surprisingly subdued for such a formidable enterprise. Almost out-of-sync but most certainly on the side of INTERPOL’s Paul, the all-encompassing `Wild Season’ was graced by the presence of a machine-less FLORENCE (Welch), although `Conceal’ was the star piece here.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Jul2013-Sep2016

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